Tuesday, December 11, 2018
So I Say Back To The Guy (See Below)
I’m not sure what the nutshell is. If it’s about what Lear is about, then you may be saying what you think about that in a nutshell, but Lear is incidental to the main point I make, one example at the end of what might be a spectrum of instruction as I’m using instruction.
But maybe you mean to address Lear in the service of a larger point. That’s not clear to me.
To meet what I take to be your sidebar, I don’t agree with the nut in your shell. The play is about the desolation of Lear but it goes beyond that. It’s Shakespeare’s play of negation, of ...No, no, no life!...We feel for Lear and our feelings for him mark our sense of the nihilism of his world, which is to say about the world of the play. So I don’t accept your distinction, as a matter of theme, between Lear and his world, the play’s world. It’s about desolation, tragic loss, futility, evil rendering the world abysmal, bleak dark, hopeless. As it turns out, I’d just read this a few days ago and liked it: https://bit.ly/2PuNINW. Teachout as I read him makes the same point I do about Lear’s thematic nihilism.
We value a lot of literature because it touches us. And if the touching isn’t a manipulative tug at our heartstrings causing reflexive emotions the way tears running down the face of a child in a garish painting might do—you know those tear jerking paintings—if the touching of us is born of good or great art, Lear at the highest instance of it, how can we not be instructed, how can we not see and “learn” something about the world? And I’d think there the “delight” is our exhilaration in being powerfully affected by what we experience. So delight too, though I’m not focusing on it, needs refinement.
Lear need not have a moral, something homiletic, but it has a theme. The play among other things means something. And it’s not at an absurd question to ask, say, students, to write an essay on their interpretation of Lear, say, what it’s about as supported by textual evidence. That requires close reading. And for me close reading is of the essence of literary criticism.
There is a sense in which no one learns anything from literature beyond what the work is about unless it’s purposefully didactic and is meant to teach something through its own fictional vehicle.
But of course we do learn something from Lear. We learn to imagine what irretrievable loss is, how desolate and defeating the world can be. It is instructive in the most potent sense of that term as I’m using it.